5 Easy Waterfall Hikes in the Smokies
The Smoky Mountains National Park is home to over 100 waterfalls. Fortunately, many of these incredible waterfalls are easily accessible via an easy-moderate hike of no more than a few miles. According to the NPS, ample rainfall (the area sees over 55 inches per year) and elevation gradient creates the perfect condition for waterfalls. The lush greenery of the park creates a beautiful backdrop for every hiking trail.
Spring is a great time to plan your visit as the temps are moderate, crowds are less intense than the busy summer season, and the waterfalls are typically at their best as a result of heavy rainfall/snowmelt. Depending on where you are staying and how far you would like to hike, there are number of great options. Below are 5 fantastic waterfall hikes to consider during your Smokies vacation.
1. Laurel Falls
This beautiful 80 foot tall waterfall is accessible via one of the park’s only paved trails. While the hike is only 1.3 miles out-and-back, it’s quite steep. You will definitely get in a great workout on this one! As one of the park’s most popular trails, there is always a lot of traffic on this one no matter when you visit. Your best bet is to set out early in the morning in order to score parking close to the trailhead. If you arrive too late, you may find yourself walking along the road for a bit.
The trail is lush with lots of greenery. A few peaks of the mountains along the route adds even more excitement. Keep your eyes peeled as bears frequent the area. As the Smokies is home to over 1500 black bears, it is not at all uncommon to see one on a hike, and Laurel Falls is particularly a hotspot. Despite the heavy foot traffic, this is one of the nicest waterfalls in the Smokies. Bonus – the fantastic Sugarland’s Visitor Center is located just down the road.
2. Cataract Falls
This easy trail begins at the Sugarland’s visitor center. The trail is only 1 mile long with little in the way of elevation gain. Due to the easy accessibility and flat nature of the trail, this one is perfect for families and beginners. While the waterfall stands a mere 25 feet, it’s quite scenic and requires little effort on your part to see. In fact, it’s probably the easiest waterfall trail in Gatlinburg. Lots of interesting plant life and creek views make this quite an enjoyable trail despite the oftentimes heavy traffic. Consider this one more of a nature walk than a rough and touch hiking adventure.
There are lots of interpretative signs along the way, making this trail a great place to start your Smokie’s adventures. Because the trail starts at the visitor center, you can take a browse around, pick up a few souvenirs, or fill up your water bottle conveniently before your hike. Note that this waterfall is definitely at its’ best following a big storm.
3. Tom Branch Falls
Location: Bryson City
This mesmerizing 60 foot tall waterfall is located in the beautiful Deep Creek region of the Smoky Mountains in Bryson City. The greenery surrounding this waterfall makes it especially picturesque. If you are looking for a beautiful fall foliage hike, this is one of the more scenic options. Arriving at the waterfall following a leisurely hike, you will notice numerous benches. Take a break and enjoy the view, as well as some much needed R&R in nature. Great place to take photography.
As one of the most scenic and easier hikes in the Smokies, this is an absolute must-do. This hike by itself is extremely easy at just 0.6 miles round-trip. Combine it with Indian Creek Falls for a total distance of 1.6 miles. Or better yet, also add in Juney Whank and see 3 waterfalls via moderate effort (2.5 miles total).
4. Indian Creek Falls
Location: Bryson City
This waterfall can be combined with Tom Branch for a total hike of just over a mile and a half. While quite smaller at just 25 feet, this visually appealing waterfall appears much larger and more powerful. The trail is pretty easy besides a rather steep staircase which leads to the falls. On busy days, you may have to wait to take your picture as the observing deck only has room for a few people.
From the parking lot, Indian Creek is about a 0.8 mile walk. You will pass by Tom Branch Falls about a quarter of a mile in. During the summer months, you will notice a lot of tubers enjoying a much needed cool down. Luckily, tubers are not allowed near this waterfall so pictures are uninterrupted. The trail is mostly flat, and thus, suitable for most families and casual walkers.
5. Juney Whank Falls
Location: Bryson City
This picturesque 90 foot waterfall is another beauty in the Deep Creek area. For anyone who wants to get in a great workout and spend some quality time in nature, it’s a perfect choice. The trail is short at just under a mile (0.8 loop) although quite steep in some spots. The cool aspect about this waterfall is you can really get up close and personal via the foot bridge. If you have the time, relax take a break and enjoy the view via the handy bench conveniently located in the middle of the foot bridge.
This waterfall can be combined with the Tom Branch Falls/Indian Creek loop for a total distance of just under 2.5 miles. If you have the time and energy, it really is a gorgeous hike. In fact, one of the best bang-for-your-buck experiences is this moderate triple waterfall loop.
As of spring 2022, parking is still free at any trail within the Great Smoky Mountains. Address for each trailhead as follows:
Laurel Falls – Little River Rd. Gatlinburg, TN
Cataract Falls – 107 Park Headquarters Rd, Gatlinburg, TN
Tom Branch, Indian Creek, Juney Whank -1090 W Deep Creek Rd, Bryson City, NC
Also check out my guide to the top 10 things to do in the Smokies